Holbrooke’s legacy

The unexpected death of Richard Holbrooke, the US Special Envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, has come at a critical juncture. For the Obama administration it will surely be a setback as it is finalising the review on its policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Having been mandated with the single most important foreign policy agenda of President Barack Obama in 2009, Holbrooke, a veteran diploma famed for his successes in the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord for Bosnia, had faced a challenge of sorts in South West Asia. With his death, Washington is likely to face an immediate problem of finding a replacement envoy who is not only well versed with the regional security and political dynamics but is able to take the agenda from where Holbrooke left. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s words at his demise, when she said that the US has lost “one of its fiercest champions and most dedicated public servants”, speak volumes of how his services were perceived in Washington.

It is important to look at what may have been Holbrooke’s achievements on the Afghan front. While there is little evidence of any discernible and tangible breakthroughs on the political front, the particular nuances of diplomacy makes it difficult to pinpoint the successes achieved in a process that is currently ongoing. In all honesty, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is far trickier than that of Eastern Europe 15 years ago. The challenges themselves are so complex and so intermeshed that finding even a way out has become an onerous task. What Holbrooke had under his belt on the Af-Pak front was his almost two years of relation building with the Afghan and Pakistan leadership. That in itself is a significant achievement, given the time and energy invested in the process. It is believed that Holbrooke’s blunt and even bullish attitude in his dealings with both allies raised tempers in private meetings. However, both Afghan and Pakistani leaders held deep respect for the experienced hard talking diplomat also nicknamed as the ‘bulldozer.’ Moreover, his blunt assessments on the need to boost efforts by both Islamabad and Kabul on the security and governance front helped in lending a grounded perspective to the situation.

The fact that Holbrooke initially advised President Obama to include Pakistan in the Afghan mandate denotes his grasp on the regional situation. Ridding Pakistan’s tribal belt bordering Afghanistan of insurgent safe havens remains key to winning the war.

It is hoped that the Obama administration seizes the opportunity while rounding up its assessment on the Afghan war to set more realistic objectives. Not to forget a more suitable way on achieving these that does not conflict with the national interests of the stakeholders.

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